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Treadmill Desk Part 2

Treadmill Desk Part 2

This morning as I was driving back into town, Dr. James Levine was on The Splendid Table (or on the podcast I was listening to). Levine is the guy at the Mayo Clinic who invented the treadmill desk, and who has fifteen years of data on the salutary effects of getting up out of your chair. Walking while working is best, but even standing instead of sitting has positive effects.

Here’s a link to a video of him talking about the issue: James Levine on Treadmill Desk

I’ve made a few modifications over the past couple of weeks. I was having trouble with the desktop height. I’d shoved a couple of old pieces of packing foam underneath, but they were squashing, so I asked my Sweetheart, the Carpenter, to take a look. He suggested a two-by-four. So I cut a piece as wide as the desktop, and wedged it underneath. Perfect! The desk is now level, and at the right ergonomic height so that my wrists aren’t bent at that angle that leads to weird symptoms like numbness and tingling etc … I also invested in a wireless keyboard and a mouse for my laptop. It now sits on the shelving unit that holds the monitor, and I increased my real estate on the desktop. There’s really plenty of room for what I need, especially as most of what I do for my day job involves clicking my way through the many steps and screens of our documentation publishing system.

While I’ve yet to lose huge amounts of weight, I have lost a few pounds. But more important to me — I just feel a lot better. Used to be that by four or five in the afternoon I was drooping and felt gross, now I get to the end of my day and still have enough energy to do stuff in the garden, or work on my new book, or whatever. I can also feel my muscles starting to recover from 15 years of sitting in chairs — what the pilates people call your “core” — in general, I walk about half the day. Sometimes, like right this very minute, at one mph which works when I’m typing, sometimes when I’m doing a lot of clicky work, I’ll crank it up to 2 or 2.5 mph, which feels like a more natural walking pace for me. Although I haven’t quite gotten the hang of typing at that pace yet. If I have a phone meeting I usually pause, because it’s a little too noisy for my speakerphone, and I often find myself standing on the side rails if there’s something I have to really concentrate hard on. But even as a standing desk, I think it’s an improvement over sitting in a chair all day.

So, there it is, my inexpensive treadmill desk. A used treadmill, an old folding table (upon which I wrote my whole first book — I like small desktops), a set of steel shelves, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a hunk of old 2×4. Good to go. Inexpensive, effective, and for the summer especially, saving on cooling costs since I’m in my basment (which isn’t as dark as it looks in the photos).

Treadmill Desk

Treadmill Desk

I’ve had a bee in my bonnet the last couple of weeks about building one of these. Let’s just say that between all the freelance/contract work these past few months, and the fact that both of my dogs are increasingly gimpy, well, I haven’t been getting the amount of exercise I’d like to be getting. I’ve been spending way too much time sitting on my butt.

So, I found a used treadmill at my local sports equipment resale store for under 200 bucks, and it was even small enough once the pedestal and arms were detached that we could get it in the Subaru. The Sweetheart put it back together for me. And after a weekend of somewhat manic de-cluttering and cleaning, I cleared out a space for it in the basement. This is not a particularly slick setup. There’s a set of metal shelves behind the treadmill where I put the big monitor. A lot of what I’m doing at my new contract gig is fairly routine — checking PDFs, publishing documents through our online publishing system (which can be slow) and my hope is that I’ll both geet some exercise and be able to concentrate a little more if I’m also walking while I’m doing this routine stuff.

At the moment, my setup needs a little tweaking. I’m using an old folding table for the desktop, and have some leftover packing foam underneath to stabilize/make a better angle. I’ll need to secure the whole thing (which I’ll probably have to ask for some help from that guy with all the tools). But so far, so good. I’m walking while I write this. Ive been able to check email and I can see the screen with enough clarity to do what I need to do.

And I’m not sitting down! I’m standing up. I’m walking 2 miles an hour. It would be nice to get back in shape, and perhaps even drop a few pounds. But for the moment, I’m mostly just happy not to be sitting still. Feels good.

Going to Work …

Going to Work …

Off to Seattle first thing in the morning to put the golden handcuffs back on. Will try to post while I’m away. On the one hand, I’m really glad to be going back to work, especially since I have trouble organizing my day when I have too much free time. I’m also looking forward to working with this team — I know and like them all, and it seems like a really congenial and supportive group. So, despite my worries about backsliding in my creative and writing lives, I’m kind of excited to be going back to Corporate Life (and to saying goodbye to nightmares about losing my house, at least for a little while). Plus, a city visit! Asian food! Oysters! Multi-ethnic populations! and a visit with my Beloved Stepmother. All good things. Back Friday.

It’s the Economy …

It’s the Economy …

Bob Herbert nails what’s been making me so crazy. How can they not get it? Do they really think everything is going to magically go back to how it was?

Op-Ed Columnist – They Still Don’t Get It – NYTimes.com.

A new study from the Brookings Institution tells us that the largest and fastest-growing population of poor people in the U.S. is in the suburbs. You don’t hear about this from the politicians who are always so anxious to tell you, in between fund-raisers and photo-ops, what a great job they’re doing. From 2000 to 2008, the number of poor people in the U.S. grew by 5.2 million, reaching nearly 40 million. That represented an increase of 15.4 percent in the poor population, which was more than twice the increase in the population as a whole during that period.

The study does not include data from 2009, when so many millions of families were just hammered by the recession. So the reality is worse than the Brookings figures would indicate.

New Directions at LivingSmall

New Directions at LivingSmall

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what to do with LivingSmall. While the practical posts on cooking, gardening and chickens will, by no means be going away, the focus will be shifting a little bit.

There’s been a lot of discussion chez LivingSmall about the recession/depression, and how it’s not going away. Every morning, the newspapers are full of stories about “recovery” and no one seems to be discussing the fact that we can’t go back, we can’t have a recovery that is predicated on the same boom-and-bust cycles fueled by easy credit and that aren’t backed by anything real, in particular, by jobs that pay a living wage. It’s not just manufacturing jobs that are disappearing anymore. At Cisco, all of us in tech writing were watching our jobs go to India, or Ireland, or Israel, or anyplace else where people had decent English skills and lower wages (and usually government health care).

I’m also interested in the national conversation about what exactly constitutes work. I’ve wanted to freelance for ages, so I’m pretty excited about not having a “job” anymore. However, I find the national discussion about what constitutes work, and what constitutes a job very disturbing. You would think if we’re trying to reboot our economy, we’d want to create an environment that’s hospitible to small businesses and entrepreneurs, but in fact, we’ve done just the opposite. With the Democrats caving on health care reform, and leaving all of us who are self-employed or working for small businesses hung out to dry, we’re all at greater risk of medical bankruptcy. We can’t buy into unemployment insurance even if we wanted to, and without “employers” we pay 15% Social Security tax instead of the 7.5% one pays when working for an “employer.” All of which was enough to keep me out of the freelancer pool until I was forcibly thrown into it.

And so now what? The big corporations are steadily throwing more and more American workers overboard, credit is tightening, and no one is addressing the reality of what a real recovery might look like. There’s a big opportunity here. We could actually start to rebuild along more sustainable lines. And what intrigues me, and what we’re going to be exploring here some at LivingSmall is — what might that sustainable recovery look like? Is there a real chance for us to think about our lives and livelihoods in a more creative way? Can we create a discussion about changing our lifestyles that posits a world in which less stuff leads to more freedom for us all? Readers? What’s your experience been? How has the recession inspired you to make changes you’d maybe resisted, but that you’re finding fulfilling?

Which Work is Work?

Which Work is Work?

Seems we’re all still reacting to the Flanagan piece slamming school gardens. Here’s a piece from Civil Eats that quotes Booker T. Washington on the value of physical work. The contempt shown by so much of the middle and upper-middle classes for people who work with their hands is, I’m convinced, partly responsible for the devastating loss of manufacturing jobs here in America. When you believe that work is only something other people do, and when you believe that those others, because they work with their hands and bodies must necessarily be inferior to you in your nice clean office, in your nice clean house (cleaned by whom?) and when in many parts of the country, even your yard and garden are tended by strangers who arrive once a week in a truck and then leave again, well, if your experience of the physical world is so mediated, then how could you ever know how satisfying physical work can be?

Is the real fear behind this school garden backlash that the kids might like it? And then what? Is the real fear that they might want to be farmers or gardeners or carpenters or to actually do something with their hands rather than to march off in lockstep to law school or MBA programs (because god forbid we deprive Wall Street of another generation of those all-important hedge fund managers)?

I remember when Patrick went off to Sterling College in Vermont, a terrific little school where he not only learned to write a paper for the first time, but learned to skid logs with draft horses, and to birth sheep and cattle, and tap trees for maple syrup (although boiling syrup’s not a good job for the ADD-inclined, look away at a crucial moment and it burns). That school was full of upper-middle-class kids whose parents were, in many cases, appalled that their kids wanted to be farriers, or farmers, or environmental biologists — you know things they could do outside, that involved working with their hands. And Patrick’s fellow students had, for the most part, spent their entire school lives being told they were dumb, or that they should apply themselves more, or that they just weren’t trying because they weren’t the kinds of kids who could sit in classrooms all day without doing something.

What has 40 years of insisting that college is mandatory and the only path to success gotten us? A nation where we have no plumbers or electricians or even just factories that make things. A nation where ordinary middle-class suburbanites don’t even know how to run a lawnmower. A nation of kids being raised in front of screens and in the back seats of SUVs being driven from “activity” to “activity” but not allowed to just play outside. Hmm. Progress?

Maybe it’s time to take another look at what Mr. Washington had to say. Civil Eats » Booker T. Washington on School Gardens and the Pleasure of Work:

Above all else I had acquired a new confidence in my ability actually to do things and to do them well. And more than this I found myself through this experience getting rid of the idea which had gradually become a part of me, that the head meant everything and the hands little in working endeavour and that only to labour with the mind was honourable while to toil with the hands was unworthy and even disgraceful.

…While I have never wished to underestimate the awakening power of purely mental training I believe that this visible tangible contact with nature gave me inspirations and ambitions which could not have come in any other way. I favour the most thorough mental training and the highest development of mind but I want to see these linked with the common things of the universal life about our doors.